Frequently Asked Questions

Here are a few of the questions people frequently ask about Shiatsu.

Do I have to be ill to receive Shiatsu?

No. People can receive Shiatsu purely for relaxation and enjoyment. Regular treatments may help to keep the body in harmony and ward off ill-health.

Can I receive Shiatsu whilst on medication?

Yes. Your practitioner will ask whether you are currently taking medication and take details of any medical conditions you are suffering from.

Can Shiatsu help with ongoing or incurable conditions?

Yes. Shiatsu can offer support and can often help to moderate or manage symptoms even if the problem will never really go away. An increased sense of well being due to Shiatsu may boost tolerance levels in the receiver, helping them to deal with the symptoms more easily.

What is Ki?

In the oriental tradition the world is described in terms of energy. All things are considered to be manifestations of a vital universal force, called ‘Ki’ in Japanese or ‘Qi’ in Chinese. Ki flows throughout the body like a system of rivers and canals. Things may happen to upset the smooth flow of Ki, causing blockages or dams in some areas, and weaknesses or stagnant pools in others. These blockages or weaknesses in turn may lead to physical symptoms, to psychological or emotional disturbances, or simply to a feeling that things are just not quite right.

What are Meridians?

Ki moves throughout the whole body but in certain defined pathways it flows in a more concentrated manner. These pathways are known as meridians. The meridians form a continuous circuit of channels that allow the flow of different aspects of Ki all over the body. Each meridian is named after a physical organ, for example, the Heart meridian, Lung meridian, and Bladder meridian. Very often, a Shiatsu practitioner will see that the energy along one or more meridians is blocked, such that there is an excess of energy at some points (manifested as tension, tightness or fullness) and a depletion at others (weakness or emptiness). They will work with the energy in these meridians to try to rebalance it. Most acupuncture points lie on meridians, and Shiatsu practitioners will sometimes work on specific points by pressing or holding them. However, Shiatsu differs from acupuncture (and acupressure) in that it is more usual to work on the meridian as a whole rather than isolated points.

The meridians are named after the physical organs in the body. However, the meridian does not just relate to the physical organ, but encompasses a whole constellation of meanings based around a particular function. These functions and associations of a meridian are generally much broader than those of the organ it is named after. So, for example, if your Shiatsu practitioner tells you after a treatment that your Heart meridian needed attention, this does not imply that there is anything wrong with your physical heart organ. In Shiatsu terms, it is much more likely to mean that you need emotional support.

How does Shiatsu diagnosis work?

Diagnosis plays a central role in Shiatsu, but it is framed in terms of oriental medicine (Ki, elements, meridians, etc.) rather than Western physiology and pathology. A Shiatsu practitioner may be able to tell you that you have, say, a Water energy imbalance or an Earth energy imbalance, but not that you have diabetes or high cholesterol. Shiatsu diagnosis is holistic rather than analytical, taking into account a wide range of clues based on what the client says, observation of behaviour patterns and physical appearance, and touch. Many practitioners begin a session with gentle palpation (i.e. diagnostic touch) of the abdominal region. This region, called the Hara in Japanese, is especially important in Shiatsu diagnosis because it is central, soft and relatively unprotected, so that subtle imbalances often reveal themselves more easily here.

How does Shiatsu treatment work?

Based on the initial diagnosis and on physical and visual feedback gained during the session, the practitioner will seek to even out the perceived energy imbalances through pressure on the meridians, probably in conjunction with other techniques such as rocking, stretches and joint rotations. As with diagnosis, Shiatsu treatment is holistic, with the practitioner working on the whole body rather than focusing on the area where symptoms are most obvious. Shiatsu works best if the client is as relaxed and comfortable as possible, so you should close your eyes, relax your muscles (the practitioner will do all the work if movement is required) and refrain from speaking unless it’s really necessary. But let the practitioner know the moment you feel any discomfort or your body will start to tense up and the benefit of the session will be lost.

Is Shiatsu massage?

Shiatsu has some features in common with European-style massage and other forms of bodywork in that the use of physical pressure and stretches serves to reduce muscular tension and loosen stiff joints. However, unlike massage, the receiver remains clothed during the treatment and the principal aim of Shiatsu is not to work on localised muscles and joints, but on the overall energy system of the client. This is the big difference between Shiatsu and other physical therapies. A Shiatsu practitioner working on a shoulder joint, for example, will not just be focusing on the joint but on the pattern of energy throughout the client’s body.

Is Shiatsu healing?

It is more accurate to say that Shiatsu aids healing than that Shiatsu heals. The aim is to assist the body’s natural healing process by encouraging the client’s energy to move into a more balanced state. A practitioner’s touch can enable each of us to contact our own abilities for self-healing. Shiatsu is different from the ‘laying on of hands’, spiritual healing or Reiki, where healing energy is believed to be ‘channelled’ through the practitioner to the client.

Is Shiatsu complementary or alternative?

Shiatsu is complementary to mainstream Western medicine, not an alternative to it. Treatment will be given according to Oriental diagnosis, though it is always important that the modern Western diagnosis is confirmed and considered as well. Both Shiatsu and Western medicine have important roles to play.

Will I have to change my lifestyle?

First and foremost, your Shiatsu practitioner will respect your chosen lifestyle, however ‘un-oriental’ it is. Indeed, Shiatsu is particularly beneficial for people in the high-stress occupations associated with the mainstream of modern life. Your Shiatsu practitioner may discuss ways in which you could ‘fine-tune’ your life in order to get more out of it – for example a change in diet or more exercise – much as your own GP might.